Cleveland: A Christmas Story House
There it is, the old house on Cleveland Street. Not my old house, mind you. Ralphie's. You know, the kid who wanted a Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle (with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time) for Christmas. You've seen his story at least a half-dozen times every year, starting on Christmas Eve, and running through the next day. A Christmas Story has become as much a part of the holidays as stockings, snow, and that green-bean casserole with the crunchy onions on the top.
In the movie, Ralphie proclaims that he lives on Cleveland Street, in fictional Hohman, Indiana. But as it turns out, the actual house that was rented out by the movie studio, and used for shooting exterior scenes, is on...
... West 11th Street, in Cleveland, Ohio -- and it's become one of Cleveland's most popular tourist attractions.
The house would be difficult to find, if you don't have a GPS device. It's hidden in the middle of a working class neighborhood, but fans of the movie will recognize it instantly. It's unmistakable.
Driving by the house is free, but a mere glimpse at cinema history wasn't enough for me. Fortunately, the house has been converted into a museum of sorts, which you can tour for the reasonable price of $8. I bought my ticket, and waited patiently out front, for the next group to be ushered inside.
As I mentioned, this house was only used for exterior shots, as well as a few shots from inside that looked out a window. Originally, the interior looked nothing like the Parker home we've seen in the movie. But, an extensive remodeling effort by the home’s owner has created a re-creation that’s reasonably close.
Brian Jones, a San Diego man who started making a living selling leg lamps after leaving the Navy, bought the house when it went on eBay in 2004. He shelled out $150,000 for the home (not exactly a bargain, in a community where other houses were selling for about 1/3 that price), then spent another $250,000 on remodeling and decorating.
Yes, the crate that delivered the hideous “major award” to the Parker house was on display. In fact, it's one of the first things you'll see as you walk inside.
The tour guide explained that the original crate was too wide to fit through the door, so the movie crew sliced off one side. That’s why there’s a continuity error in the film – the “F” in “fragile” is partially cut off, once the crate is brought inside.
As my group walked in, we gathered in the living room (which includes more couches than were featured in the movie, just to accommodate the crowds). A guide gave us a brief explanation of how the home was used in the movie, and how the interior was remodeled and carefully decorated to feel the same as the movie set.
Of course, there's a leg lamp burning brightly in the front window...
... a Christmas tree, complete with a crooked star and packages underneath (one of which looks suspiciously like it may contain a blue bowling ball)...
... and a tangle of wires, that pour out of the wall sockets.
There's also an antique radio, no doubt tuned to receive important encoded messages from Little Orphan Annie...
... and a desk in the corner, with a surprise gift hidden behind it.
Wander into the kitchen, and there's a turkey in the vintage oven...
... along with a washing machine...
... next to a kitchen sink (with plenty of room underneath for a little brother to hide)...
... and a kitchen table set with FiestaWare, just like in the movie.
... for the chance to lie in Ralphie and Randy's beds, then stare out the window at a winter wonderland (okay, not in July).
The attention to detail is remarkable -- right down to the wallpaper and light switches...
... and the phone, hanging on the wall -- perfect for calling the neighbors, and blaming their children for saying the F-dash-dash-dash word.
Should you get caught swearing, there's plenty of Lifebuoy soap in the bathroom. Ah yes, the bathroom...
... the only room in the house where a boy of nine (or 35) could sit in privacy and decode.
Oh, and I know what you're thinking. The answer is yes -- yes, I did have to ask a perfect stranger, "Will you take a picture of me, sitting on the toilet?"
After our orientation, our group was given about 20 minutes to wander around the house, and do crazy things like take the turkey out of the oven or sit on the toilet. I had used up most of that time, when I wandered back downstairs and discovered that Ian Petrella had arrived.
Ian, a guy about my age, had played the role of Randy in the movie. Nowadays, he spends time during the summer and winter in Cleveland, stopping by the house and signing autographs. Seeing him was equal parts cool and creepy.
Feeling somewhat weirded out by the star appearance, I decided to continue my tour outside...
... which of course, is the most authentic part of the Christmas Story house, since it was used almost exclusively for exterior shots.
From the kitchen, you can walk out the back door, through the screen door that nearly came off its hinges when the Bumpus Hounds came marching through, ruining the turkey feast.
The old shed, used by creeping marauders that infiltrated the backyard, is the original one seen in the movie.
From the back, it's a weird-shaped house! I don't remember noticing that before; I guess I'll watch more closely this Christmas.
Back around front, there is one more original relic from the movie. That's the same mailbox that Ralphie checked on a daily basis, awaiting the arrival of his decoder pin.
The tour guide pointed out that the mailbox is somewhat of a continuity error in the film. Notice as the boys walk down the street -- no other house has one. The houses on this block received mail delivery at their door, not in mailboxes.
The house may be the main attraction, but there’s more to see across the street. One home serves as a museum, filled with original movie costumes and photos.
Hey, it's the outfits worn by the bad guys!
Under glass in one room, you can read an original hand-written script, scrawled out at the last minute, in order to give director Bob Clark a cameo appearance. In case you’re wondering, he’s the guy who walks up in front of the house, to question the Old Man about his major award. Clark's appearance provided another minor mistake in the film: he was wearing a Miami Dolphins knit cap – a team that didn't exist in the 40's.
Hey, it's that sign from the alley! Along with a TV that's playing the movie, complete with director's track.
Yet another house serves as the gift shop. Outside, there's a 1937 Oldsmobile that was used in the movie. No, it's not the Parker family car, but it did make a cameo in the opening scenes, in front of Higbee's Department Store.
The gift shop was stocked with all the items you'd expect: from Pink Nightmare bunny suits...
... to Christmas ornaments...
... to leg lamps of all sizes.
All of the souvenirs were a bit too tacky for my taste. That's okay, because I had received the best souvenir of all -- a photo of me sitting on the toilet.
A Christmas Story House is open Thursday through Sunday, year-round. Tours run every half-hour. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $6 for children 7-12 (6 and under are free). You can drive by, and see the house from the street for free, anytime.
A few other scenes from A Christmas Story were shot in Cleveland (including the scenes that involved Higbee's -- a real department store in downtown Cleveland that has now closed), but most were filmed in Canada. Ralphie's school is now a women's shelter in St. Catharines, and the Chop Suey Palace is in Toronto -- along with Cherry Street, where the "only I didn't say fudge" scene was shot.
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